Because furbearing animals are primarily nocturnal SQUIRREL MUSKRAT RACCOON and are naturally secretive, often the only signs of their Squirrel tracks are very similar to rabbit tracks as Muskrat tracks show long, slender toes on front and Probably the easiest tracks to identify are those of a presence are tracks left on their nightly travels. they both hop, with the hind tracks landing ahead of the hind feet. Five toes appear on the hind imprint but raccoon. The front footprints show the long finger-like An ability to identify animal tracks greatly increases front tracks. A squirrel places its front paws side-by- generally only four on the front. The fifth toe is present toes that resemble a miniature human handprint. our enjoyment and knowledge of animal activity. side, while a rabbit’s front paws are in a line. but is generally too small to show. The muskrat often Because the raccoon walks flat-footed, the large sole on Unfortunately, there are no precise formulas or laws to drags its tail, leaving a mark. its hind feet often shows clearly. follow in track identification. Hopping Hind Front Always take into account the type and the condition 1.3” Front Walking 2.5” 3” of the material in which the track is found. Such varying 4” 6-20” conditions as mud, hard dirt, sand, or deep, drifting, or Hind Walking thawing snow make it difficult to find a distinct track. A 2-3’ 1.6” Front track from the same animal is much larger in mud than 3” Hind in dry, hard dirt. Do not rely only on track size for STRIPED SKUNK PORCUPINE positive identification. A small coyote may leave the Skunks walk flat-footed. Their hind footprints The tracks of a porcupine are usually accompanied same size print as a large fox. An animal also will leave resemble tracks of a barefooted human being. Skunks by a distinct scuff mark caused by dragging the tail. Toe RIVER OTTER a different pattern of tracks when it walks than when it often travel in short, shuffling steps. pads are usually not seen in tracks, though claw marks River otters have large webbed feet, though runs or bounds. are common. The tracks often appear rough in texture. sometimes the webbing is hard to see in a track. Other A good tracker is constantly on the alert for such 1.5” common track features include a tail drag or smoothed Front clues as hair, droppings, and other signs of animal 5-6” Walking path caused by sliding down stream banks and through activity. 1.7” Walking Front snow. 1.9” Hind Walking 2.5” COTTONTAIL RABBIT 2.7” Hind 17” BADGER Cottontail tracks reflect the hopping gait of these 3” Badger tracks are wide and appear blocky. The long species—about 3 feet in length—with the hind tracks 19” front claws often leave indentations about three quarters usually landing in front of the front tracks. Foot pads BEAVER of an inch in front of the toe imprints. The front and claws are usually indistinct as the feet are Beaver tracks show a large, webbed hind foot that footprints turn in slightly because badgers walk pigeon- completely haired. usually covers the smaller front footprint. Marks from WEASEL toed. the tail being dragged are also common. Weasel tracks resemble mink tracks but are generally 1.25” Hopping Front Walking 3” 3.5” smaller. A running weasel leaves a line of twin prints. 3” Front Both weasel and mink prints may show irregular spacing 3’ Beaver-chewed because of the animals’ habit of jumping—one short Front Hind stump jump, followed by a long jump, and so forth. 3.5” Hind 9-10” 5” Hind 0.5” Front JACKRABBIT 0.6” Hind Jackrabbit tracks are usually longer than they are OPOSSUM wide, with impressions from the hair on their feet visi- The hind tracks of an opossum show “big toes” that ble. A running jackrabbit leaves tracks of its hind feet MINK slant inward or backward. The three middle toes tend to ahead of the front feet because jackrabbits are primarily Mink tracks are round and often appear fuzzy. They Gallop stay in a tight group. hoppers. usually show five toe and claw imprints, although the Right inner toe will not always show. Walking 1.5” Front Gallop 1.7” Front 1.7” Front 7” 7-12’ Right 8-30” Hind 5” 1.8” Hind Bounding 2” Hind 14” Make your own tracks! SWIFT FOX DOMESTIC DOG Swift fox tracks usually appear in a line and may be Dog tracks are often confused with those of fox and TRACK confused with cat tracks. Smaller than coyote tracks and coyote, but dog tracks are round. Often a perfect circle is lacks the raised transverse bar seen on the heel pads of formed inside the imprint around the rear edges of the red foxes. toes and the front edge of the heel pad. Four claws IDENTIFICATION generally show in the imprint. The dog’s front footprint Front Walking 1.7” is wider than it is long. Unlike the fox and coyotes, dogs OF COMMON have a slanted gait when running, so the tracks do not appear in a straight line. Larger dog tracks are also Hind 1.3” 14” sometimes confused with those of a mountain lion. SOUTH DAKOTA However, mountain lions have retractable claws and RED FOX claw marks are very rarely seen in their tracks, unlike FURBEARERS Red fox tracks usually appear in a line. Individual dog tracks. footprints are oval with tiny toe pads. Under some Walking conditions, marks are left by the hair between the toes. Red fox possess a raised transverse bar on the heel pads, often the only part of the heel that leaves an imprint. Because of this, the pad appears as a narrow bar.
Trotting 2.5” Front
9-11” 2” Hind MOUNTAIN LION When walking, lions usually put their hind paw in the COYOTE imprint made by their front paw. They have four toes. Coyote tracks show the two outer toes of the hind Claw marks are not normally visible since their claws feet being longer than the inner toes. The two inner toes are retractable. A distinctive characteristic of mountain on the front imprint slant toward each other. Toenail lion tracks is the “tri-lobed” pad. Some call this the “m” marks may show but are not as pronounced as those in shape. Also, the third toe of a lion seems to extend out dog tracks. Individual tracks are longer than they are slightly longer than the others. wide. Walking 3.5” Front 2.5” Front Trotting 3.25” Hind 12-14” 3’ 2.25” Hind
DOMESTIC CAT BOBCAT Domestic cat tracks may be confused with those of Bobcat tracks resemble domestic cats’ tracks, but are the mink. Cats, however, have four toes. Cats walk with larger with a greater distance between tracks. The bobcat their claws retracted, leaving no claw marks. All cats are www.projectwildsd.info has a three-lobed pattern on the rear of the heel pads. considered “precise walkers” in that their hind feet step Like all cats, the bobcat walks with its claws retracted, Reprinted with permission from Project WILD; Project WILD K-12 into the tracks left by their front feet. Curriculum & Activity Guide © Copyright 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, leaving no claw marks. 2000, 1992, 1985, and 1983; Council for Environmental Education. The Walking complete Activity Guide can be obtained by attending a Project WILD Walking workshop. For more information, please contact Chad Tussing, Project WILD Coordinator, South Dakota GFP, at (605) 773-2541 SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF ([email protected]) or the Project WILD National Office at (713) 520- 1” 7-8” 1936, or visit the organization’s national web site, www.projectwild.org. 2” 9-13” GAME, FISH AND PARKS